2016 Recommended Hikes
by Marti Smith, Smoky Mountain 900 Miler
& GSMA's Membership Associate
May - Porters Creek
Porters Creek in the Greenbrier Area
Our destination this month is Fern Branch Falls by way of Porters Creek Trail, which is 4 miles round trip. You can make it more like 7.5 miles round trip if you hike to backcountry campsite #31.
After you reach the trailhead in Greenbrier, you'll follow an old roadbed at the beginning. At about ½ mile you'll find a rock wall on the right. This wall marks the Elbert Cantrell farmstead. Just past the rock wall are steps that lead to the Ownby Cemetery and its 23 gravesites. This is a nice short side trip to view some history of the Smokies.
At the 1-mile turn-around you notice a nice stand of Hemlock trees that was saved by the National Park Service vegetation crew. Here you’ll find another worthwhile side trip to the John Messer cantilevered barn to the right. A little past the barn is a spring house and a cabin. The cabin was reconstructed from two cabins and built around the chimney of what was left of the John Whaley cabin. Members of the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club used it until 1981.
After returning from your side trip, continue up the trail toward the right. This section is more trail-like and less like a roadbed. The mountain across the creek to the left is Porters Mountain. Straight ahead is Mt. LeConte.
At 1.6 miles you’ll find a log footbridge over Porters Creek. This is one of the longest and highest foot bridges in the Smokies. Most folks grip the handrail to the point of white knuckles in order to cross.
In another four-tenths of a mile you will be rewarded with a view of Fern Branch Falls on the left. The falls is approximately 45 feet tall and was named for the mosses and ferns that surround it. A species of “walking fern” grows here in part due to the microhabitat created by the fall’s near-constant mist. A boulder field blankets the bottom.
The falls makes a nice turn around after having a snack and refreshments. Be sure to enjoy all the wildflowers found along the trail in the spring. Above all else, enjoy the “wondrous diversity of life” in the Smokies!
April - Cataloochee's Boogerman Trail
4.7 miles round trip, rated moderate
The Boogerman Trail begins at the Caldwell Fork Trail just past the Catalooche Campground on the left. In years past hikers could cross over one of the longest foot bridges in the park, now it's one of the longest water crossings. At just about .8 of a mile, we reach the first intersection.
Here we turn left on to the Boogerman Trail. Once we start hiking on this section, it's obvious you're in old-growth forest. The trail passes several large trees, including pines, poplars and eastern hemlocks. Due to resident Robert "Boogerman" Palmer’s rejection of lumber companies’ buy outs, we are blessed with the presence of these gentle giants. Some of the tallest trees in Cataloochee are found along this section of the trail.
At around 2.3 miles we pass the old Palmer home site. At a little over 4 miles we see a very impressive rock wall that is about 80 feet long, 3 feet tall, and more than 2 feet wide. This is evidence of the Carson Messer home site. When we reach the Messer site the trail begins to follow a creek known as Snake Branch. We'll cross this several times without the help of any foot logs.
At mile 4.7 the trail intersects with Caldwell Fork Trail again. Be sure to turn right to continue on the loop. From here the trail follows Cataloochee Creek, and we'll cross it at least 12 times. This part of the trail can be very muddy at times.
At 6.5 miles the trail reaches the original intersection with the Boogerman Trail. It is now only a little less than a mile until we arrive back to the origination of the hike.
Upon completion, take this opportunity to continue driving southwest on the valley road to view the elk. They were reintroduced into the Smokies in 2001. If you have never seen these animals, it is well worth the additional 3-mile drive.
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